Months After Propane Blast Killed Maine Firefighter, Authorities Announce Cause

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The cause of a propane explosion that killed one Maine firefighter and severely injured others has been revealed.

Fire Marshal Joe Thomas cited an augerhead used to drill a metal post into the ground as the source of a break in a line that caused gas to fill LEAP, a facility for the disabled in Farmington.

"We want to find out the things that took place to prevent this from happening again," he said.

Thomas' team interviewed over 100 people to reach its conclusions more than four months after the September accident, which killed Farmington Fire Capt. Michael Bell, injured six other firefighters and severely hurt Larry Lord, a maintenance worker at the facility, which was destroyed.

Lord remains at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was listed in fair condition as of this week.

Two companies are named as associated with the propane tank and the digging in the summary of the fire marshal report. They are CN Brown Company in South Paris, Maine, which handled the tank, and Techno Metal Post in Manchester, Maine, which installed the bollard.

Meanwhile, lawmakers and families of those killed and injured in Farmington are trying to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future.

This week, a hearing was held in Augusta on a bill that would require propane lines to be included under Maine's Dig Safe laws, which mandate advanced notice to officials before digging near utility lines.

Bell's daughter, Danielle Bell Flannery, testified at the hearing that "the explosion that killed my father was preventable and never should have happened."

The state fire marshal agrees.

"If those lines had been clearly marked as to their location, then there would have been absolutely no reason that Techno Post went into them," said Thomas.

It may never be known what ignited the blast because the evidence had not made that clear. The fire marshal's office says it could have been anything from a flipped switch or static on a carpet.

NECN and NBC 10 Boston reached out to law firms representing Lord and the families of the firefighters.

"On behalf of the Lord family we appreciate the ongoing efforts of the investigating officials whom we expect will produce a thorough and revealing report," Lord's family's representatives, attorneys Steven Silin and Daniel Kagan of Berman & Simmons, said in a statement. "The press release issued by the State Fire Marshal's office today is by design limited in its breadth. We expect that when the Fire Marshal releases its full conclusions that report will address errors and omissions by multiple parties, some of whom are identified in today's press release. [E.G.: The press release identifies the bollard installation as the cause of the leak but does not address the gas supplier’s decision to refill the emptied tank without first identifying why it was empty, as required by code.] … It is preliminary to state whether suit will be necessary in order for all those responsible to be held accountable for the grievous harm that resulted from this tragic event."

The affected Farmington firefighters are represented by Augusta attorney Walter McKee, who also released a statement.

"Certainly everyone has been waiting with anticipation for some of the specifics about the explosion, but none more than the firefighters who, as they do every day, put their lives at risk when they responded to the building that day. And as we know one of those brave firefighters paid the ultimate price," McKee said. "The firefighters have been waiting to get some official word about the details of what happened here and these findings confirmed these details. They are all looking forward to seeing the full report when it comes out so they can make some sense of how this terrible tragedy happened, and most importantly what can be done so that it never ever happens again."

Thomas said Friday the full final report has been released, but it has to be requested on paper from his office.

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